Hamilton, New Jersey

Tallur L. N., Chromatophobia, 2012, mixed media, 91 × 78 × 89".

Tallur L. N., Chromatophobia, 2012, mixed media, 91 × 78 × 89".

Tallur L. N.

Grounds For Sculpture

Tallur L. N. makes quixotic sculptures and installations that draw on India’s rich tradition of figurative sculpture, recontextualizing this almost clichéd iconography to wryly critique transformations in the country’s society and culture. This comprehensive survey includes works produced over the past thirteen years and two new works inspired by fragments of medieval sandstone sculptures from the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Contemporary replicas of classical sculptures are common in India, where they serve both ceremonial and decorative purposes. Tallur frequently subjects such objects—some found, others fabricated in collaboration with craftspeople—to processes of decay and destruction. For both Alzheimer’s, 2006, and Milled History, 2014, he allowed termites and white ants to eat away at wooden figures, simulating the slow wreckage of time. The former work, a freestanding bhoota sculpture sourced from rural South India, is wittily embellished with a gut made of silver, suggestively linking its literal digestion to the diminishing status of religion and history brought on by globalization. To produce the latter piece, Tallur digitally scanned a termite-ravaged wooden copy of a temple figurine and then milled a replica of it from teakwood sandstone. Though recently fabricated, this sculpture displays the conventional markers of age, challenging the value we usually ascribe to such signs of wear. And in 0+0=0−0, 2011, an electric grinder, usually activated by a proximity sensor, threatens to wear down the head of a wooden icon framed by neon lights that, perversely, entice viewers to take a closer look. (Tallur’s works are often kinetic and/or interactive, but in this display most, including 0+0=0−0, are not actually operational; their sensorial and conceptual impact is therefore compromised.)

Another of Tallur’s favored strategies is to bury part of a sculpture in a mass of material. In both Obituary Note, 2013, and Unicode, 2011, the central figure of the Hindu god Shiva as cosmic dancer, or Nataraja, appears to be entombed in a sphere; the characteristic ring of flames that encircles it is left as is so that the work resembles an oversize globe. The charred wooden core of the former work invokes the specter of world destruction while cleverly nodding to the cremation-ground setting in which Shiva dances. With a central volume of concrete and coins, the latter piece mounts a less subtle critique of the negative effects of capitalism and urban development on traditional values and practices. Tallur’s iconoclasm is not limited to religious subjects; in Eraser Pro, 2012, a familiar image of Gandhi—midstride, staff in hand—appears severely degraded but still recognizable.

Tallur also provides multiple pathways through which to exorcise the evil associated with money. Chromatophobia, 2012, a large granite sculpture of a Budai with a huge log replacing its grinning head, is essentially a wishing well. Viewers are invited to make a wish after hammering a coin into the log; the sculpture bears the burden of both their anxieties and their desires. Enclosed within an intimidating cagelike frame, Apocalypse, 2010, consists of an industrial polisher that promises to remove the taint of money by smoothing the surfaces of coins, rendering them worthless. In reducing money to its base material, the work cleverly reminds viewers that monetary value is not intrinsic or absolute but symbolic, established by and maintained through social relations. That many works in this show are installed within metal scaffolding—of the type used to protect passersby during construction or renovations—enhances one’s sense that these works are metaphors for precarity, transformation, and the cultural costs of development. 

Enlightenment Machine (Beta Version 3.0), 2019, operates similarly to Apocalypse. Viewers can use the pedal-powered grinder—sandwiched between two outsize wooden wheels—to wear down store-bought souvenirs of the Statue of Liberty and the Liberty Bell. In allowing viewers to physically deface these mementos, the work implicates them in the erosion of the monuments, asking what the commodification of these edifices does to the abstract values they symbolize. As right-wing fundamentalism ascends in both the United States and India, Tallur’s provocations gain a sharper critical edge, revealing the growing hypocrisies at the center of both societies: While orthodox interpretations of national and religious symbols are triumphantly promoted, the laws enacted severely compromise the philosophical ideals for which they stand.